Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Climate Change Response Bill 2010: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

12:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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The establishment of a stronger and more progressive national policy position on climate change is one of the highest priorities for the Government. The reason is very simple. Global climate change does not just threaten our national competitiveness or prosperity, it threatens our very existence. Our temperate climate is seldom acknowledged as a national asset but the recent cold spell acted as a timely reminder of its importance to us as a society and an economy. One only has to reflect on the vulnerability of our rich biodiversity and our world-renowned agriculture sector to global climate change in order to recognise the need for decisive national action.

Just yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, which is based in the United States, confirmed the findings of its scientists that 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record, beginning in 1880. The findings also point out that 2010 was the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average. Those figures put the overall scale of the climate change challenge in perspective and we cannot meet this challenge on our own. It is a global problem that requires a global solution.

Our future well-being is dependant on international efforts to mobilise an effective global response. That is why Ireland strongly supports a proactive EU policy position in its ongoing international negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. While our greenhouse gas emissions are small in global terms, we must underpin our demand for effective global action with a progressive domestic policy position on greenhouse gas mitigation. We must demand and demonstrate foresight, leadership and determination in order to be credible in our efforts and our expectations of others. In our own interest and that of future generations we must be bold and resolute in the pursuit of a comprehensive global response to this unprecedented environmental threat to our future.

It is against this background that the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 has been developed. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and I have invested substantial time in the preparation of the provisions and I am pleased and honoured to present the Bill to the House. As well as being novel, the Bill is timely as we enter a period of renewal in Ireland. Living within our means is not an objective that is limited to economic and affordability considerations. Our future as a responsible society must be sustainable on economic and environmental grounds.

Economic prosperity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. With the right policy framework and a determination to succeed, I foresee Ireland as being among the successful countries in an inevitable transition to a low-carbon global economy. At the same time, Ireland faces a major challenge due to our high dependence on imported fossil fuels. I looked at the BBC before I came into the House and noted that global oil prices are at $98 per barrel, the highest they have been for over two years.

I wish to conclude these short introductory remarks by stressing the need for a stronger and more progressive national policy position on climate change. The provisions of the Climate Change Response Bill will underpin an ambitious but realistic national policy position with two fundamental objectives: to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions consistent with our commitments under EU and international law and to anticipate and ensure that we are well placed as a society to embrace the enormous opportunities of the low-carbon global economy of tomorrow. I will come back to both of these issues in detail as I discuss the sections of the Bill.

Section 1 is the standard Short Title provision. However, at face value, it does not capture the novel approach or strategic importance of the policy now proposed. Turning to the Long Title, I wish to draw Members' attention to the Bill's objective of making provision: "FOR THE SETTING, AND ACHIEVEMENT, OF NATIONAL EMISSIONS REDUCTION TARGETS TO FURTHER TRANSITION TO A LOW CARBON, CLIMATE RESILIENT AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY." This reflects the nucleus of the Bill and the primary objective of setting a long-term vision to guide an effective and successful transition to a low-carbon future. This transition approach is key to achieving the two fundamental objectives to which I have already referred.

I want to emphasise that transition is not a political option or a politically motivated philosophy, rather it is a pragmatic and positive policy approach to climate change. It reflects the outlook of a responsible and smart society and will prove consistent with the policy approach that is likely to be adopted by the EU on foot of the anticipated 2050 policy position which the European Commission is expected to bring forward shortly.

In identifying transition as the primary objective, I wish to emphasise that the Bill does not overlook the importance of setting specific greenhouse gas mitigation targets and I will refer to the issue of specific targets in addressing section 4. However, it is important to note and reflect on the fact that while mitigation targets are essential indicators for monitoring and reviewing progress, a simple focus on targets represents a reactive or basic compliance response to climate change. Transition, on the other hand, represents a more proactive response with a balanced national focus on challenge and opportunity.

In pursuing the twin objectives of meeting our greenhouse gas mitigation commitments under EU and international law and preparing to compete successfully in a low-carbon global economy, transition seeks to motivate constructive, whole-of-society buy-in and action. The people of Ireland and the key economic sectors will respond positively to that. They will welcome the opportunity to present themselves as informed and progressive. As a society, we are keen to show we are pursuing a smart economy in the truest sense of the term. Such an economy is highly productive, competitive, resource-efficient, environmentally sustainable and recognised for its quality goods and services.

In concluding my remarks on the Long Title, I would like to make an important point. I would welcome the views of Members on it. I suggest that the focus on the economy is too narrow. The Long Title should be broadened to encompass society in a wider sense. In other words, the primary objective of the Bill should become the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable society. The need for mitigation and adaptation is not confined to economic activity. As I have said, the transition approach reflects the outlook of a responsible and smart society.

Section 2 of the Bill deals with matters of interpretation. I do not intend to go through the various interpretations at this stage. I will be happy to respond to any questions that Members may have on Committee Stage.

Section 3 provides clarification regarding the effect of the Bill, including the effect of any national or sectoral plan made on foot of its provisions. This is particularly important to ensure the Bill does not cut across the State's obligations or entitlements under European Union law or any international agreement. Section 3(2) clarifies that the targets in section 4 are not justiciable, and that proceedings for non-compliance with a national plan may only be brought in certain circumstances. These important provisions reinforce the strongly positive and progressive spirit of this novel legislation and maintain a sharp proactive political focus on developing and implementing national climate change policy. It will be a matter for the Oireachtas, rather than the courts, to monitor and manage progress. I will be happy to consider any amendments to strengthen this priority aspect of the Bill.

Section 4 sets out national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. When I spoke on the Long Title of the Bill, I mentioned the importance of targets as essential milestones for measuring progress on transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy. Three specific targets are proposed. The first is a short-term target, based on an annual average reduction in net emissions of 2.5% per annum in the period from 2008 to 2020. I have read some commentary on this particular target in the media. I would like to bring clarity to the points raised. The Bill target for 2020 is a compounded target. In other words, it works out as the equivalent of a 2.5% year-on-year reduction, equating to a 26% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions over the period between 2008 and 2020.

I have read some commentary on how this short-term target compares with the 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements that Ireland is required to meet under EU law. This is a point on which we should be clear. Two separate legal instruments in the EU climate and energy package, which was adopted in December 2008, address the greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements of all member states in the period to 2020. One instrument covers emissions from installations across the community that fall within the scope of the EU emissions trading scheme. The other instrument applies to the balance of relevant emissions in all member states.

One of the most significant EU policy developments under the December 2008 package was the decision that the European Commission would administer the emissions trading scheme from the beginning of 2013. As a consequence, greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements for the more than 100 Irish installations that are participating in the scheme will become a matter for the Commission. Therefore, Ireland does not have an individual target in respect of the Irish installations participating in the emissions trading scheme. This harmonised EU position applies to all member states. For 2020, therefore, the only mitigation target that applies to individual member states arises under the instrument known as the 2008 effort-sharing decision. It applies to sectors of the economy not covered by the scheme. This target covers emissions from transport, waste, agriculture, non-emissions trading industry, commercial and residential activities. Under the 2008 package, Ireland has a 2020 target to reduce emissions in these areas by 20% compared with 2005 levels.

The 2020 target proposed in the Bill is ambitious but realistic. It is constructed on the basis of certain assumptions. The first assumption is that Ireland will meet a 20% reduction in emissions under the 2008 effort-sharing decision. The second assumption is that the group of Irish installations participating in the EU emissions trading scheme, which will operate within an EU-wide pool and will not be subject to national allocations as under the current scheme, will achieve the reductions projected by the EPA in the most recent scenario it published, with additional measures, which includes planned policies as well as those currently in place. The third assumption is that post-1990 forest sinks will perform as projected, by sequestering a projected 4.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020. The aggregation of these three assumptions provides the basis for the 2020 target.

I appreciate that the complexity of this issue has given rise to an element of confusion but the essential point is that Ireland's effort-sharing target under the 2008 EU package is contained within the target in the Bill. A like-for-like comparison between it and the short-term target in the Bill is not valid as they have different bases and different starting points. The 2030 target in section 4 sets the second incremental step towards transition. It involves a 40% reduction in net national greenhouse gas emissions, by comparison with 1990 levels. This target simply reflects a sensible transition milestone, having regard to the 2020 and 2050 targets. The inevitable final milestone will be a target for 2040, but that is a matter for another day.

I would like to speak about the proposed 2050 target. The overall transition objective involves an 80% reduction in net national greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 1990 levels. The target, which has been set in the context of a comprehensive global response to climate change, reflects the minimum level of greenhouse gas mitigation the EU expects developed countries in aggregate to achieve by the middle of the century. The 2050 reduction target for developed countries is normally expressed as a range of between 80% and 95% of 1990 levels. A higher target is a plausible ultimate outcome. For now, an 80% reduction sets a sensible and credible national objective for the proposed transition objective.

There is no doubt that the national, EU and international climate change agenda will evolve significantly in the period to 2050. One has to consider the pace at which new and cleaner technologies are expected to come to the market and the dynamics of the emerging low-carbon global economy. At the same time, we cannot be certain of the pace and scale of economic change. For these reasons, section 4 of the Bill provides for the proposed targets to be revised by order made by the Government and confirmed by positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This flexibility is very important if we are to safeguard the overall success of our transition policy, ensure the confidence of all stakeholders and give the Oireachtas the role I foresee at the centre of policy oversight and development.

Section 5 of the Bill requires the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to prepare and submit to the Government a national climate change plan to address mitigation and adaptation. The adoption of national plans will replace the current practice of producing a periodic national climate change strategy. The objective is to have the first national plan in place within 12 months of the passing of the Act and to update it at least once every seven years thereafter. The proposed seven-year period is consistent with the reporting schedule followed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This will ensure each plan is made on the basis of the most up-to-date international peer-reviewed science available. Section 5 also requires the Government to request sectoral plans to be produced by such Ministers as it considers appropriate.

I wish to elaborate on two important points that are embedded in the proposed policy on a national climate change plan. The first embedded point is the requirement for the national plan to cover both mitigation and adaptation. Government policy has inevitably focused on mitigation to ensure Ireland complies with its binding requirements under EU and international law. We cannot defer indefinitely the adoption of an appropriate and effective national policy position on adaptation. The incorporation of both mitigation and adaptation in the process will rectify the current policy imbalance.

I see this as a very important and positive step.

The second embedded point is that the national plan process provided for in the Bill takes policy development and implementation to a new level. While the two national climate change strategies adopted to date served an important purpose in meeting our EU and Kyoto Protocol requirements, the absence of a transparent underlying structure and the limited focus on compliance in the short term rendered that whole approach inadequate in terms of the longer-term challenges and opportunities facing the country. I also see this as a very important and positive step forward in terms of our credentials as a responsible and progressive society.

Earlier I referred to the fact that economic prosperity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. This point is further reflected in the provisions of subsections (9) and (16). Subsection (9) sets out the criteria for making national plans. They include the need for long-term vision, for careful consideration of the economic impacts of the plans and require a basis of sound science and the drive towards sustainable development for each plan. These criteria are critically important as subsection (16) of the Bill requires all Ministers of the Government to have regard to national plans in the performance of their functions. These steps represent a major policy advancement in that they make provision to integrate and firmly establish transition as a national priority. As can be seen from these individual but complementary provisions, integration must work both ways. I believe these two key provisions will make the fundamental social and economic adjustments which transition demands both achievable and rewarding.

Section 6 makes provision for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, following approval by Government, to present an annual transition statement to Dáil Éireann. The annual statement will replace the carbon budget process introduced in 2007 and will better reflect the national policy on transition capturing the importance of the challenges and opportunities and addressing both mitigation and adaptation. I am aware of some deeply held views that Ireland should adopt a strict carbon budgeting process. However, as with the compliance based approach which we have adopted to date, I believe that carbon budgeting is too narrow. If introduced at a sectoral level, carbon budgeting could be divisive and damaging and a setback rather than a step forward in terms of policy development. It is worth bearing in mind that we have legally binding greenhouse gas emission budgets under EU law and I believe we should seek to build a progressive national position around thoserequirements rather than down-scale them to sectoral level. Transition may be novel and, in certain respects, more complex but in providing a positive long-term vision to which people and business can aspire, I believe it provides the greatest prospect for a successful outcome on environmental and economic grounds. The annual transition statement will set out the policy measures adopted for the purposes of supporting transition to a low-carbon economy and of adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change. It will include an assessment of the effectiveness of measures in place and, where appropriate, set out any additional measures required to maintain progress.

Section 7 provides for the establishment of a national climate change expert advisory body, which will comprise a chairperson and between five and seven ordinary members, three of whom will be, ex-officio, the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, the chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the director of Teagasc. I appreciate the Bill does not include the director of Teagasc but I agree with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that the director should be included and I will bring forward an amendment to this effect.

Appointments to the expert advisory body are to be made by the Government on the nomination of the Minister for terms of up to three years, with eligibility for reappointment. In appointing ordinary members, regard must be had to the range of qualifications, expertise and experience necessary for the proper and effective performance by the expert advisory body of its functions. This is important if the body is to be effective and recognised as a sound source of impartial advice. Administrative support for the body is to be provided by the EPA.

Section 8 sets out the functions of the expert advisory body, which are to advise and make recommendations to the Minister, any Minister of the Government, and the Government on their functions in regard, respectively, to the preparation of a national plan, the making of sectoral plans and the approval of a national plan. Provision is also made for the body to advise and make recommendations on Government policies on greenhouse gas emission reductions and climate change adaptation.

Section 9 provides for the preparation of an annual report by the expert advisory body and its submission to Government by no later than 30 June each year, setting out progress made in achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions and in making the transition to a low carbon economy. This report will provide a significant element of the underpinning for the annual transition statement which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be required to present to the Dáil. It also represents a further step in putting the Oireachtas at the centre of national policy on transition.

Section 10 provides for the expert advisory body to conduct periodic reviews of national policy and report to Government on its findings and recommendations. The expert body will be required to undertake its first periodic review within 12 months of publication of the fifth assessment report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change. The assessment report from the intergovernmental panel is expected in 2014 and, by extension, the first major review from the expert advisory body should be submitted to Government in 2015. In addition to the requirement to produce a periodic review at least every seven years the expert advisory body will have statutory authority to carry out a review at any time, either on its own initiative or on foot of a request from the Minister. In considering whether to carry out a review section 10 requires the body to have regard to significant developments in scientific knowledge, EU or international law or the need to maintain progress in achieving the purposes of the Act. Annual reports and reports on foot of periodic reviews will be published by the expert advisory body, subject to the consent of the Government.

Section 11 makes provision for public bodies, in performing their functions, to have regard to the national plan and relevant sectoral plans as well as the more general objectives of transition to a low carbon climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, mitigating emissions and adapting to climate change. Power is provided for Ministers to give a direction to public bodies in their areas requiring the preparation and submission of reports setting out the measures adopted for the purposes of compliance with the duties imposed by this section. Provision is also made for relevant Ministers to direct public bodies to adopt specific measures.

That concludes my comments on the principal provisions of the Bill. I look forward to hearing the views of Members across the House.

I want to take a moment to address the ongoing public consultation. I am aware of concerns raised in regard to the duration of the consultation and the fact the legislative process in the Oireachtas was scheduled to commence in advance of the consultation concluding. I accept the timeframe is not ideal and I very much appreciate the accommodation of the House in commencing Second Stage today. The Government's intentions have been well signalled since the framework for the Bill was issued in December 2009. As I said earlier, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and I have invested substantial time in the preparation of the provisions. I will be happy, as we move to deal with later Stages, to update the House on the progress of the consultation process. I assure Members that the Government is open to considering amendments which Senators may wish to table on Committee Stage, including amendments arising from the response to the public consultation.

I believe now is the right time to recognise climate change policy as a national priority and to refocus on a more progressive and forward looking Ireland. We must present ourselves as we wish to be seen, namely, a country that takes the long-term economic, social and environmental well-being of its people seriously, that has respect for the national environment on which we depend so much for our well-being and prosperity, and that is capable of embracing change and innovation not because it was forced to do so but because it has the foresight and capacity to do so. The provisions of the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 provide the foundation block for an effective and successful transition to that low carbon climate resilient and environmentally sustainable future for this country. I am honoured to commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Seanad Éireann declines to give a Second Reading to the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 because an all Party consensus has not been agreed on a green house gas emission reduction strategy."

It is regrettable that we have had to table this amendment. While much progress has been made by the joint Oireachtas committee on trying to achieve an all-party consensus and approach to what is essentially a long awaited climate change Bill, the manner in which this Bill has been brought before this House, even before the consultation period has ended - it is due to end on 28 January - is regrettable.

As with every Bill, it is important a full consultation process takes place giving all stakeholders an opportunity to put their views in order that we, as policy makers, can consider them in a reasonable timeframe.

The Minister of State stated in his concluding remarks that he accepts the timeframe is not ideal and he appreciated the accommodation of the House. However, he also stated that both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and he had invested substantial time in the preparation of the provisions of this Bill. Has the main party in government had any hand, act or part in preparing these provisions? If so, why has the Minister of State not said so? Do Fianna Fáil Members matter at this stage in the equation? The majority party in the Oireachtas should surely have a say on very important legislation such as this.

The window of opportunity for consultation is one month. I appreciate that various stakeholders have had opportunities at the joint committee and other fora to set out their stall regarding the legislation. Fine Gael supports it in principle and we have been co-operative at all levels in the Oireachtas and at other forums to achieve an all-party consensus, but a realistic target or an achievable objective must be provided for in law because if it is not, it will only create problems for our society and our economy. It needs to be properly thought through and while the legislation has a great deal of merit and contains good provisions, it puts the cart before the horse by setting targets without proper consultation and without a proper strategy. I acknowledge a strategy and plans are identified in the Bill but they should be properly thought out and agreed prior to the targets being set and prior to enactment of the legislation.

It is acknowledged that the transport and agriculture sectors are the two largest contributors to carbon emissions. Many stakeholders and lobby groups have approached all parties in the House to outline their views, which I welcome. It is important we get everyone's view. I have been lobbied by Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and various other groups which fully support he legislation but which believe it does not go far enough. On the other hand, IBEC, IFA, ICMSA and other organisations believe there has not been proper consultation, the Bill has not been properly thought through and it will have major implications for the sectors in which they operate. We must listen to the stakeholders because we are depending on them to turn our economy around. While the ideology is good and Fine Gael and the State agrees to our international and EU obligations on climate change and carbon emissions, it is essential we agree realistic legislation. Our economy is in recession and in crisis and while it is nice to have good ideology and principle, we must have realistic mechanisms to deliver that ideology. Fine Gael remains to be convinced that we will not have serious difficulties with this Bill because we have not had the buy in from stakeholders that is essential in the current economic climate.

Previously the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, of which the Minister of State is a former member and to which he has contributed enormously, as have I, produced its own draft Bill, which I accept set high targets. Representatives of the forestry sector attended a meeting of the committee earlier to outline how they could contribute by developing a good carbon sink to address emissions issues in the State. The consultation process is ongoing but the legislation is being rushed and shoehorned. I am not sure it has the full support of the Government parties. Will the Minister of State clarify the position?

There is a great deal of confusion and debate about targets. I agree with the Minister of State that it probably stems from the fact that various bodies are using different baseline figures. I compliment the staff of the Oireachtas Library and Research Service who produced a beneficial, independent and objective paper on the legislation. They have identified, as has the Minister of State, that the target is 26% by 2020 using the 2008 baseline figures. That goes well beyond our EU and international obligations in the view of many. The nub of the problem is not the target but that stakeholders have not bought into achieving it. We should always set targets but unless mechanisms are in place to achieve them, they are of no use and they will only cause huge problems in our economy going forward. The targets are outlined in the Bill.

There are a few inescapable facts when considering the issue of targets. First, Ireland is reliant on an expensive EU-IMF emergency bailout to fund itself. Second, Ireland has to reduce its deficit to agreed levels by 2014 and the only way to achieve this is by growing our economy because tax increases and public spending cuts will not meet the required adjustment. There must be growth in the economy and legislation must be properly pressure tested. If a business is starting up, the owners must produce a business plan in order that any decisions they make will not impact negatively on the business. There is no reason to fail to implement the same methodology regarding this legislation. We should pressure test it to prove its consequences will not negatively affect economic growth. Third, to increase growth, we need to become more cost competitive to make Ireland a better place in which to do business and to create jobs. Weakening our cost competitiveness between now and 2014 would set back our economic recovery and this is where we might differ with the Minister of State. Account must be taken of these facts in the current climate.

Fine Gael feels that shoehorning the Bill into both Houses in the dying days of the Government equates to political expediency on the part of the Green Party. It would be better to bring all parties along on this and this is not the way to go.

I acknowledge the effects of global warming domestically and internationally and this has resulted in serious flooding and other natural disasters. A wider international debate is ongoing about how to tackle it. We cannot address climate change on our own as Ireland is only a drop in the ocean. We need to work with our international colleagues and lobby them to bring them with us, but we cannot do it on our own. If we put our heads above the parapet, we will put ourselves at a huge disadvantage economically.

This is especially true of the agriculture sector. There is great concern within the sector that the legislation will have a significantly negative effect on beef and dairy production. Teagasc, an independent agency, estimates that by 2020 the legislation could cost the sector up to €600 million to meet the targets set out. On the other hand, the Government deserves credit for its exciting Food Harvest 2020 policy. This has huge potential for growth but the legislation could have a negative impact on the policy. The targets for the agriculture sector could mean a reduction in the national herd of up to 40%. The Minister of State may shake his head but such issues need to be teased out in various fora to put them to bed because agencies in this sector are concerned about them. We must listen to them. If the Minister of State, by shaking his head, is saying they are wrong, let us prove that and justify it in proper, timely and adequate debate.

Ireland has one of the lowest carbon emission models in the agriculture sector in the world, let alone Europe, due to its grass-based beef and dairy production. The emissions over recent years have reduced considerably. The good news is that both IBEC and the IFA want to engage with the Government to find ways and strategies to reduce carbon emissions by using technology and new procedures and systems that can be supported by all members of society. It is important we listen to them.

I have made many contributions to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security which has tried to debate this issue. I regret there has not been as much engagement with that committee on the part of the Government as there should have been. I outlined my concerns regarding the agriculture sector to the committee. At a time when there are major issues surrounding food security, we cannot try to restrict in any way Ireland's significant potential for the production of dairy and beef produce. It will result in beef being imported from the other side of the world and from less efficient carbon producing countries. That must be taken into account.

While IBEC has raised very serious concerns, the Irish Academy of Engineering has focused specifically on the areas of adaptation and mitigation. It favours more emphasis on adaptation in the way society functions. I agree with that view. We must examine our culture, critical infrastructure, energy, production, transport, which is a huge contributor to carbon emissions, and our domestic and cultural behaviour. Before we impose targets on these important economic sectors we must see how Government policy is genuinely attempting to reduce carbon emissions. I can offer some examples.

In the transport sector my constituency experienced the closure of the railway from Waterford to Rosslare Harbour. Rosslare Harbour is a europort, as is Waterford Port. However, we have seen the closure of critical infrastructure at a vital time. I am not making a political point but this is Government policy. State agencies are closing this infrastructure yet, in this Bill, the Government is trying to impose targets on other sectors when it cannot live up to that same policy.

Aside from the rail freight issue, there are other examples throughout the country. Waste treatment policy is extremely conflicted at present. Government policy says one thing while the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government says something else. There is no clear direction. Waste management plans in the regions are doing one thing while Government policy is doing something different. There is great confusion in that area. It is contributing to carbon emissions owing to there being no clear direction or policy.

The smart metering initiative was welcomed by all and sundry. Where is it today? There was a pilot project. Why was it not introduced in all towns to try to change domestic culture with regard to carbon emissions? Consider also the issue of bio-fuels. Many people invested in that sector in the hope that they could grow our economy, generate business for themselves and reduce carbon emissions. Again, there was little policy support and barriers everywhere. There is also the issue of the interconnectors and large-scale wind farms. The Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, was a member of the committee and heard about the problems being experienced in acquiring foreshore licences and securing interconnection to the national grid for large-scale wind farms. There is a vast number of problems and the Government has a direct responsibility for solving them and removing barriers before it starts imposing targets on other sectors that are struggling but which are our only hope for the recovery of the economy. It is important we debate these issues and bring them out into the open.

The ideology is good and I believe in it. I have exchanged my 2.5 litre diesel jeep for a 1.6 litre saloon. I installed geothermal heating in my home prior to the existence of any grants for doing so. I was a pioneer and I have tried to my bit. I carried out an energy audit of my house. However, we must do these things as a society. The Government must do it before it starts imposing these targets. It must bring people with it rather than drive wedges or divisions between them. It is essential to have stakeholder buy-in and all-party consensus.

The joint committee has made a great deal of progress on which we can build. We should draw up our strategies and plans before setting targets and imposing this legislation.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. It is with pleasure than I formally second the amendment so eloquently, logically and comprehensively proposed by Senator Coffey.

I and my party are not contesting the science or reality of global warming and the need to address it. There is all-party agreement in that sense. I acknowledge the bona fides of the Minister of State in that sphere; there is no contest in that regard. There is also no contest of the fact that we should be a moral authority in Europe on this issue. As a small nation, we have a tradition since independence, especially in the peacekeeping area, of presenting the moral argument on an international platform. Let us continue to do that. Let us continue to be leaders in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and to be the conscience of Europe in that regard. I am privileged to be on the Council of Europe and to be a member of its committee on the environment. I speak regularly on the issue and advocate a very strong European policy. There is no issue in that context either.

We are saying there is no need to go outside the current EU guideline of 20% as it might be foolhardy and tie our hands unnecessarily. I say that not from a flat earth or negative position or from a nihilistic effort to mess up what the Minister of State is doing, but from a sensible, realistic perspective. The 20% European guideline should be the realistic target rather than the 26% guideline implicit in the Bill as established by the excellent documentation from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service.

It is worth noting that there were no specific agreements at Copenhagen and Cancun on emission levels and targets to be reached.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is a shame.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Of course, it is a shame. We advocate that there should be, and I advocated that at the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe committee was pushing for agreement but there has been none. The process has moved to Durban where there might yet be legal agreement.

I am not sure we should be too far ahead of the posse on this issue. While we should lead, we should not do so by tying our hands behind our backs and creating unrealistic situations. To a degree, this might yet prove to be an Irish solution to an Irish problem. To reach the required targets proposed in the legislation we will, at a minimum, depend on huge imports of energy from abroad generated by nuclear power, or we might require our own nuclear power station to achieve them. I am sure the Green Party would shudder at the thought of nuclear power, yet under this legislation we might well develop great reliance on it. That is how the UK is doing it and why it has lower targets. I invite the Minister of State to conduct a little existential or personal reflection on that before proceeding.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Minister of State , Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State , Department of Transport; Minister of State , Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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Along the lines of St. Thomas Aquinas, I am sure.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I believe that is required. We accept the finite nature of fossil fuels. We also accept that the cost of oil is increasing by the hour and the day. We are very conscious of that. Hence, Fine Gael produced the NewERA strategy which proposes developing a reliance on green wind and wave energy. We also believe there must be a national insulation strategy and a conservation strategy. That demonstrates our good faith. I again say to the Minister of State that the EU target of 20% would be a sensible starting point until we get the other bricks in order.

This is not party political. I accept the Minister of State's point that this is about the very survival of our humanity and our ecosystem. As such, it is not a civil war party political issue in any sense. Senator Coffey's fundamental point is that it should be the subject of all-party consensus and that our strategy should evolve from the all-party committee. This would represent a reform of the House. There is no better vehicle for Dáil reform than to make it decide on this and make it evolve a strategy. The all-party committee is the best option. It is a pity that for party political reasons, this is happening now with that process. It might be better for the Minister of State to come in here and say that he has aspirations but that they must be subject to consensus among all the parties. That could resonate better with the public, which is much more discerning than we might believe in this ivory tower.

Teagasc states that to achieve the objectives of this Bill, there would have to be a 40% reduction in the national herd. That is in conflict with the Food Harvest 2020 proposals. They are not compatible and we cannot avoid that fact. It will involve a massive reduction in agricultural production. It is accepted that agriculture and tourism are the two vehicles that will bring about economic recovery. There is a €600 million implication according to figures by Teagasc, the IFA and the ICMSA. The independence of Teagasc in this area is accepted, as are the bona fides of the two farming organisations. They are there to represent their sector in a positive way, and they have to worry about the survival of the planet as well. There is a €600 million implication in a 40% reduction in the national herd.

The IFA has stated that carbon offsets should be agreed for bio-energy production. We had many great debates on bio-energy in this House over the last few months, for some of which the Minister of State was present. Senator Bradford and I put forward a number of good amendments in this sector. Bio-energy should be used for grass production and forestry. If we displace Irish agriculture as an exporter of food, the people in the UK and Europe will be fed by food from third countries where the carbon footprint will be much greater due to the journey taken by the food and due to the method of its production. In other words, we will achieve nothing. We have the best environmental conditions in the world for producing our Irish food. If the Government displaces that and brings in food from outside, it will create a greater carbon footprint and will defeat its objective. That cannot be avoided in this debate.

1:00 pm

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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I have been informed that there is a vote in the Dáil. The Minister of State is required there so we will have to suspend for a few minutes. The Senator will have one minute of his time left when we return.

Sitting suspended at 12.55 p.m. and resumed at 1.10 p.m.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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By way of conclusion, I draw the attention of the House and the Minister of State to a particular matter. We all hope and aspire that agreement is reached and that the legal targets are established at Durban. If this legislation is passed in its present form, we could tie our hands as burden-sharing is arrived at after Durban. We pray that we will return with the targets for Europe arising from Durban. My anecdotal evidence supports this possibility but there will be a burden-sharing issue. What proportion will Ireland take? Having committed ourselves to such high targets already, we will have left ourselves little elbow room in negotiations. It is not that we would try to undo the good work but we need negotiations to preserve our business, agricultural and tourism sectors. Therein lies the difficulty: we may be giving a hostage to fortune. I caution the Minister of State and call on him to reflect on the matter - another piece of reflection for the Minister of State.

Photo of Camillus GlynnCamillus Glynn (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. While we might disagree as to when it should be put to the Houses of the Oireachtas, this is important legislation. While it might be the case that the people across the floor are well-meaning, my colleagues on the other side of the House are indulging in a policy of procrastination. They take the view that it is the right thing to do but not right now. The Bill should be before the House today and I support it in this regard.

There is a key message in the Climate Change Response Bill, the main purpose of which is to prioritise the establishment of a national policy on the means and implications of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to establish a national policy position on adaptation to the impacts of climate change. The Bill does not impose any legal obligations on Government to achieve the emissions targets set in the Bill and it allows for these targets to be changed. I consider this to be important. Rather, the principal legal obligation is to develop sectoral and national plans which would take account of these targets and plan towards emissions reductions that safeguard economic development and competitiveness. The terms "economic development" and "competitiveness" are key. The Government is also committed to legislating for a process that allows us to plan for greenhouse emissions reduction and adaptation to climate change. As the Bill makes clear, this must be done in a way that safeguards economic development and competitiveness. It bears repetition. The Climate Change Response Bill 2010 was published on 23 December and a period of public consultation was announced on 24 December which will run until 28 January.

Several players have concerns about the Bill. We must listen to these because they have a pivotal role to play. I am referring to the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, Oxfam, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and others. They hold concerns for different reasons but these concerns must be brought on board. They must be adjudicated on, considered, and, if they have relevance, must be reflected in the final Bill approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The concerns of the IFA, IBEC and other bodies, including those relating to the issue of costs arising from the policy set out in the Bill, will be addressed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as the Bill progresses through the Houses of the Oireachtas and in response to the ongoing public consultation.

I was heartened to hear the Minister of State suggest he would take amendments in this House. I am putting down a marker. In dealing with previous Bills, amendments were refused in this House which went on to be accepted in the other House, something I am not prepared to tolerate. As the Government spokesperson who leads for the Government on this side of the House, that is not acceptable to me as a Government Senator.

There is a response to accusations that the Bill will impose huge costs on industry and agriculture. The Climate Change Response Bill, in itself, does not impose any legal obligations on the Government to achieve the targets set out in the Bill, as I have stated.

The Government agreement to publish a Climate Change Response Bill demonstrates that Ireland takes seriously the issue of climate change, places the development of policies as a priority, is ensuring that these policies are based on sound scientific evidence through the development of sectoral and national plans and engages in appropriate consultation with the players to which I have already referred. Nevertheless, it is crucial that neither this Government nor any future Government agree to legally binding targets that would compromise our economic competitiveness, including the competitiveness of industry and agriculture.

The Government is proposing to make a strong and legally binding commitment to develop a national plan which sets out policies that would achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. The targets set out in the Bill anticipate possible future international commitments on climate change. Contrary to reports, there is no legal obligation on the Government or any future Government to achieve the targets set out in the Bill and there is a provision which allows the targets to be changed. Therefore, the principal legal obligation in the Bill is to develop plans that consider these targets, including sectoral and national plans. However, the Government may decide to recommend alternative targets having considered the economic and other implications of the targets set in the Bill. It is intended that the advisory body to the Government on these issues will contain persons with expertise in agriculture and industry. Accordingly, this does not need to be seen as a threat to these sectors. I welcome this development. I would not support any legislation in this area that excluded agriculture. As a man born and bred in the countryside, I am proud of my rural roots. The agricultural economy is central to the country's success and we must do everything in our power to protect it. This development is an effort to ensure we will be well prepared to meet any proposed future international commitments.

The targets set in the Bill are less onerous than those set in the Bill drawn up by the Oireachtas committee on climate change. An important distinction is that the committee's Bill would impose duties to meet targets, whereas the Government's Bill imposes duties across the system to plan for transition and integrate national and sectoral plans on climate change mitigation and adaptation into all functions of public bodies.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is its weakness.

Photo of Camillus GlynnCamillus Glynn (Fianna Fail)
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The Government's Bill sets out a valuable framework to enable all sectors of the economy to be adequately prepared to comply with future international agreements on climate change. It will ensure Ireland will consider all options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. Importantly, it will ensure that when the Government publishes a national plan, we will choose policies that will retain Ireland's economic competitiveness.

A series of provisions are contained in the Bill to ensure the twin goals of competitiveness and economic growth will be central to all measures to tackle climate change. We must look on this legislation as boosting rather than hampering economic activity. It will help to protect the economy and our society in the long term. The one thing the poorest people on the planet can bequeath to those who will follow them is a clean and healthy environment.

The legislation makes sound economic as well as environmental sense. We must look at the two as going hand in hand rather than threatening each other. While it is an enormous challenge, it is one that can also bring opportunities as we look for ways to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels. With the renewed high cost of oil, everyone will be aware of this factor.

The low carbon economy will also see the development of new industrial sectors using the new clean technologies to create jobs and develop new sources of economic growth. As the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, pointed out, the legislation will send a clear signal to the rest of the world that Ireland is a prime location for availing of long-term economic investment opportunities, a development all Members will welcome.

The Government has a strong track record in putting Ireland at the forefront of the international response in combating climate change. This is a unique selling point, one which will be advantageous to our economic recovery. Last October the Environmental Protection Agency warned that without the economic recession, Ireland would have been a long way from its Kyoto Protocol targets for 2013. While greenhouse gas emissions have decreased, as we move towards economic recovery and production levels begin to increase, it is important to ensure climate change policy complements our national recovery plan. We cannot rely on a recession to reduce our emission targets.

Greenhouse gas levels in 2009 fell by 5.4 million tonnes to 62.32 million tonnes, largely as a result of the economic slowdown. For the first time reductions were recorded across all categories, including industry and commercial, energy, transport, agriculture, residential and waste.

The Bill poses absolutely no threat to the sustainability of agriculture. If it did, I would have great difficulty in supporting it. The agriculture sector should not be afraid of it. To its credit, it has already delivered substantial reductions in emissions without impacting on its profitability. The checks and balances contained in the legislation will ensure Ireland will meet its commitments while ensuring its agriculture sector continues to thrive.

During European and international negotiations Ireland has been to the fore in ensuring agricultural issues are considered at all times. It has highlighted the threat posed by carbon leakage to ensure food production using sustainable agricultural practices in such countries as Ireland is not replaced by food production using less sustainable and more environmentally damaging methods elsewhere.

A substantial amount of Government funding has been put into research at various institutions, including Teagasc, to develop farming practices and technology which will help to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector. The Food Harvest 2020 report placed a strong emphasis on the sustainability of agricultural production and the importance of avoiding carbon leakage. Ireland's commitment to the principles of sustainability and the implementation of world class environmental practices will present a real marketing opportunity and a unique selling point for the country. It presents an opportunity to engage in the positive branding of Ireland and its products as green and clean. For example, the quality of our beef production is unrivalled in any other part of the world. This can be achieved through transparent methods of food production and full traceability. I like to think when I buy any meat product, be it mutton, beef or pork, that it can be traced to an Irish location.

These policies emphasise the importance of an integrated approach to the emissions and sequestration from agriculture, forestry and natural ecosystems. Agricultural and forestry policies must address the major potential for increased sequestration from farmed land, forestry and perennial energy crops.

We can all do our bit to ensure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, purchasing a motor car with lower emissions is one step. Like Coffey, last year I bought such a car,. The Government has rewarded consumers in making such a choice. The road tax payable on my new car came to €104 per year, while the figure for my previous was nearly €700.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, and compliment him on his speech which was clear, confident and precise. The Climate Change Response Bill is weaker than several of us would have liked. I am sure the Minister and the Green Party would have the same view. People have spoken about the necessity of keeping the Government going to get the finance Bill through. The Climate Change Response Bill is just as important and a good reason for the Government to stay in power for a brief time.

I pay particular tribute to Senator Bacik who pioneered discussions on this matter in the House. With the help of several lobby groups, she developed a climate change Bill which was introduced in the House. She persistently harassed the Government to commit to a timescale for the passage of her Bill, commitments which were broken. Now with the last gasps of the collapsing Government, climate change legislation must go through. For that reason, I will not be supporting the amendment of the Fine Gael Party which which wants to long-finger the issue and decline to give the legislation a Second Reading until there is all-party consensus. As I pointed out on the Order of Business, that all-party consensus has been achieved on two occasions by the relevant committee. I am not sure, therefore, about what those in Fine Gael are talking. I have many friends and colleagues in Fine Gael whom I greatly respect. However, I will not support the party's amendment under any circumstances because it is destructive in nature.

A number of extremely fine contributions have been made on this issue, although I must admit I am not in agreement with everything that has been said. I was extremely impressed by Senator Coffey's contribution during which he referred to the energy audit he had carried out in his home, to the fact that he had changed his car to a model with a smaller engine and to various appliances he used. The fact that he has taken action gives him a certain moral standing. However, he then stated that if we put our heads above the parapet, we would be in danger of inviting adverse competition from less responsible governments. That is not a moral argument. In circumstances where we are facing a catastrophic situation, it is an argument which has very little substance.

Senator Coffey's contribution was followed by that of my good friend Senator O'Reilly who stated he was not contesting the science of climate change. However, he also remarked that we should be careful not to be ahead of the posse but that we should still lead. If we keep our heads below the parapet and do not move ahead of the posse, I am not sure whether we would be providing any leadership.

There is time left for discussion on this matter, particularly as the Bill has not yet been considered by the Dáil. It is important, therefore, that certain aspects should be taken into account. For example, viewing legislation of this nature as aspirational would be fatal. As political realists, we are all aware of what happens to people's aspirations. What is needed is action.

I wish to clarify one matter which arose in the context of the contribution of my good friend Senator Glynn. Like me, he comes from a farming background. My grandfather farmed extensively and I am aware of the heartbreak that can accompany farming. As a result, I understand the concerns expressed by the IFA and so forth. Rather confusingly, Senator Glynn stated Oxfam had been critical of the Bill. I checked with that organisation's representative in the Visitors Gallery and was informed that it had criticised the Bill because it did not go far enough, not as a result of the weakness of its provisions. I would not like the misunderstanding to continue.

I read both the Bill and the explanatory memorandum with great interest. I am glad that climate change-proofing will come into play in Departments and that an expert advisory body is to be established. I do, however, have a number of concerns about the latter. I do not share Senator Glynn's joy in the fact that the Bill contains targets rather than specifically legally enforceable requirements. I would have preferred if the latter had been included. Again, however, we must deal with the political reality and what is proposed in the legislation is something on which we can build.

Friends of the Earth, Stop Climate Change and other organisations have, with reservations, welcomed the introduction of the Bill. The Minister of State generously indicated that he would be happy to supply further information on, in particular, the definitions contained in the Bill. I wish to put one question to him in respect of the definition of "sink". Will it include grassland? That is one of the concerns of the IFA and should be addressed. People must understand grasslands do act as sinks in a much more significant manner than had previously been supposed. If provision in this regard has not been made in the Bill, I serve notice of my intention to table an amendment to ensure grasslands will be included in the definition of "sink".

The Minister was clear with regard to the unprecedented nature of the threat posed by climate change. I have just returned from Cyprus. The annual autumn temperatures on the island are now consistently three degrees above normal. There is no question or doubt that summers in Cyprus are becoming hotter and a number of extremely severe weather events have occurred there. However, they have not been half as severe as those which have occurred in Australia or on a number of Pacific atolls, some of which are accredited members of the United Nations and which are facing the prospect of extinction as they are overwhelmed by the ocean waves.

The Minister of State made a good point when he stated, "Our future as a responsible society must be sustainable on economic and environmental grounds" and that "Economic prosperity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive." To the latter I say, "Hear, hear". Of course, they are not mutually exclusive.

I offer a minor aside in respect of carbon emissions, etc. I am aware that there will not be much time to do so before the Minister of State leaves office, but it is important that we revisit the Keating regulations which again vest in the people some profit from the country's natural resources. In this regard, I refer to the Corrib gas and oil field which is vast and the profits from which could solve most, if not all, of our economic problems.

The Minister of State has indicated that the targets set in section 4 "are not justiciable". Perhaps he could expand on this, but I presume it means there cannot be recourse to the Irish courts.

I was particularly intrigued by the Minister of State's comment to the effect:

Government policy has inevitably focused on mitigation to ensure Ireland complies with its binding requirements under EU and international law. We cannot defer indefinitely the adoption of an appropriate and effective national policy position on adaptation. The incorporation of both mitigation and adaptation in the process will rectify the current policy imbalance.

As the matters to which he referred appear to be closely linked, again, I felt obliged to consult those in the Visitors Gallery. I telephoned a friend, so to speak. I do not wish to appear to be claiming credit for what I consider to be a most brilliant encapsulation of the position. In that context, those to whom I spoke in the Visitors Gallery informed me that mitigation was avoiding the unmanageable, whereas adaptation was the management of the unavoidable. It is useful to express this very good definition. Certain things about which we can do nothing have happened. I refer to the large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere, the floods that have occurred, etc. We must ensure we introduce measures which will mitigate the effects of the aforementioned, but we must also adapt.

My colleagues and I have been briefed by the IFA. As indicated, Senator Glynn's welcome for the Bill was somewhat lukewarm. The IFA has stated the provisions contained in the Bill surpass what is required under international emissions reduction obligations. I do not believe that is the case. I have considered the matter and will give what I believe is the correct figures in this regard. It is important to discuss these matters. In that context, the inclusion of the farming lobby and IBEC in the discussion is an important development. However, their views should not be allowed to prejudice the debate on the Bill.

The IFA has also stated an estimated increase of €4 billion in agricultural exports could be placed in jeopardy. I hope this will not prove to be the case and we must consider the position in this regard. The matters under discussion can be managed intelligently because we are a creative and intelligent people. The IFA has further stated the Bill will lead to an increase in gas emissions internationally because everyone will be purchasing beef in larger quantities from Brazil and other countries in the Amazon basin which are not so picky when it comes to climate change. That is a matter for diplomacy. The Government of Brazil should be shamed into becoming involved with international concerted action on this matter.

The IFA has requested that the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets not exceed Ireland's international obligations. This request should be considered, but I do not believe the targets exceed our obligations. If they do, it is only by a very small amount. The IFA states agriculture must be given direct credit for current and future carbon offsets, generated by forestry, etc., up to 2020. Why not? A certain amount of what the IFA has stated can be welcomed.

I wish to discuss my reservations about the Bill. As stated, the legislation is significantly weaker than what was proposed by the relevant joint committee with all-party support, including that of Fine Gael. Although the Bill is well worth supporting as a form of staging post mechanism, it is strange that it does not contain any five-year targets or carbon budgets. The first target with which the Government is going to be confronted is that relating to 2020. As everyone is aware, a week is a long time in politics. Governments change and the next Government will probably serve a term of four years. It will, therefore, be out of office well before the target set for 2020 has to be met. When it signed the Kyoto Protocol, the then Fianna Fáil-led Government thought it would not be in power when the targets had to be reached and was, therefore, intent to land the responsibility on someone else's lap. This could happen again.

We must also consider the climate in political circles in respect of soundbites and the 24-7 news cycle. The approach being taken to this entire matter appears extremely suspect when one considers that 2020 is almost ten years away, while we have a five-year electoral cycle.

Under the new Bill, the Government we elect in the coming months could face any target. After 2020 the next target is 2030, and after that it is 2050. Most Governments, therefore, will not face any target. That is a significant weakness in the Bill and I believe it should be amended to set in place five year targets for the Government to achieve. That will come into much greater alignment with what we know are the political realities of Government cycles. If the Government does not table an amendment to that effect, I will do so.

On the absence of carbon budgets, the programme for Government and the framework document refer to carbon budgeting, but where is it? It is not in the Bill. The carbon budget is just a statement, like a fiscal statement. We have fiscal statements about our economic targets in that by 2014 we will achieve a 3% reduction. Why not take the same philosophical position with regard to climate change? The five year carbon budgets are the best way of managing the delivery of the targets. The point about the difference between a target and a budget is that a target is about emissions at a single point in time. It is being tied down specifically to five years in the future where the budget is the total emissions over the five year period.

The Government has stated previously, and Ministers are on the record with regard to this, that Irish climate law will be modelled on the United Kingdom. In general outline perhaps it is, but it stated it would improve upon it and it has not. The Government has not managed to reach what the UK has done because under the United Kingdom Act the British Government announces three five year carbon budget targets at a time, and the first of those is legally binding, which none of ours appears to be. This is very important because apart from anything else, the next 15 years will be vital if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

With regard to the objections of IBEC, that organisation objects on economic grounds and states that the Bill is much more demanding than the European Union targets. I have looked at the figures with the assistance of some advisers and my understanding is that IBEC is right. I have to admit that and my reading is wrong. It is absolutely right, if one wants to be a nit-picking nitwit, because the target in the Bill is 52.5 Mt whereas the EU package is 52.4 Mt, a difference of 0.1%. Technically, it is right but it does not matter a fish's tit. I beg the Cathaoirleach's pardon for the unparliamentary language. The IFA also is not entirely correct because as I said earlier, the Oireachtas committee Bill had stricter targets. I do not believe it will be difficult.

With regard to the advisory body, it is independent, and I welcome that, but it should be able to publish its report in its own fashion and within a comparatively short time. Otherwise, we will be subject to leaks. That will also give us certainty, and certainty is very important for our own industry, agriculture. It is important to target, map and provide for what we are doing and, most significantly, it will attract international investment. I know Senator Glynn questioned this but he may have been thinking about some of the nastier of the international, multinational combines.

In terms of research and design, we will get investment in green technology, where we are helping to lead the way in terms of wave and wind technology, if we pass this Bill and if we strengthen it by amendment in this House, as I hope we will do. I wish it every success.

Photo of Mark DeareyMark Dearey (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome also the placing of the Climate Change Response Bill 2010 before the House. It is a significant day. It is probably an historic day in the sense that climate change has been on the agenda since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This country has been through an enormous time of economic change. We did not take account of the message of Rio de Janeiro and this Bill is a significant indication that, finally, we are beginning to do that. It is a long time after the optimal moment but for that reason it is still an historic day.

I note the equivalence Senator Norris gave to this Bill as to the Finance Bill, a Bill on which we are placing particular importance because we see it as a Bill that will enable Ireland to borrow money it cannot borrow on markets that effectively have been closed to us owing to lack of regulation at the right time, poor foresight and lack of management of our financial affairs. A similar catastrophe will befall us, multiplied by I do not know how much, if we do not plan for the impending climate crunch. We must offset its most serious effects and that means trying to keep increases in global temperatures to below two degrees if we are to avoid what is known as runaway climate change. Ireland has a small but significant role to play in that, and it is in that framework that I welcome this Bill.

I will pre-empt some of my comments on the Bill by referring to Nicholas Stern, former deputy director of the World Bank and lecturer in the London School of Economics, who was tasked with writing a report on the economic impact of climate change in the United Kingdom. It became known as the Stern Review. He makes many recommendations for actions in that report. In one of his recommendations, and it could apply equally to this Bill, he states:

The case for strong and urgent action ... first, on the severe risks that the science now identifies ... and, second, on the ethics of the responsibilities of existing generations in relation to succeeding generations. It is these two things that are crucial: risk and ethics. Different commentators may vary in their emphasis, but it is the two together that are crucial. Jettison either one and you will have a much reduced programme for action - and if you judge risks to be small [and I believe many do] and attach little significance to future generations you will not regard global warming as a problem.

In the commentary on climate change in Ireland there is still a significant portion of people who consider the risks to be small. It is not a view I share, nor is it a view the Green Party or this Government shares and, therefore, the urgency and the far-reaching nature of this Bill commends it to this House.

On the business of climate change, as a small nation reliant on external trade and therefore on regaining and retaining competitiveness, why should Ireland take early and decisive action on climate change above and beyond the ethical and risk issues I have mentioned? The question gets to the marrow of the argument about the need for a climate Bill and the merits of this climate Bill in particular.

The first comment I would make is that our actions as laid out in this Bill are not in fact early. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Ireland's obligation was to limit emissions to 13% above 1990 levels over a five year period from 2008 to 2012. This was in recognition, within the EU's internal burden sharing scheme, of the underdeveloped nature of the Irish economy in that base year. In hindsight, from 1997 onwards was also a time when we should have put in place policy and legislation that would leave our economy ready for a low carbon future and make the transition to that low carbon model that this Bill legislates for an easier one than it will be but we set off on a different trajectory, enjoyed a boom that depended utterly on imported fossil fuel and resulted in rapid growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Our pathway to economic and infrastructural development means we now have a larger task in terms of planning, transport, energy production, agriculture and the distribution of utilities. Our housing and building stock, much of which was built since the original climate change conference in 1992, is not designed, located or built with a view to low carbon emissions and we now have a highly dispersed location pattern that is very difficult to deal with. To borrow the cliché of the moment, our housing is where it is and there is not much we can do about that, but we are at least beginning to make it more efficient.

This Bill is enabling legislation and while it contains targets given in the Minister of State's contribution, it is primarily about putting legally binding obligations on the Minister to produce a national climate change plan that will include measures to mitigate against greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon sinks, and measures to adapt our economic system to ensure it reduces the amount it emits as it continues to confer on us the benefits of enhanced economic activity and development.

The medium and long-term targets are what we and the world must achieve if we are to limit global warming to two degrees, as I identified. I trust that industry, agriculture and policy makers recognise that we cannot afford to ignore the fact we must keep global temperatures within these limits and that we need to respond now. The short-term target is a 26% reduction by 2020. That figure is confirmed in the Bills digest produced by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. The target is 6% above our current commitment to achieving a 20% reduction by 2020, as formally adopted by the EU in April 2009. Indeed, that climate and energy package also lays the basis for a commitment in Europe to go to 30% by 2020 if global agreement on increased targets can be reached, something I expect to see happen in Durban toward the end of this year, as Senator O'Reilly said earlier. In this regard I wish to establish my confidence in this by quoting the comments of the executive secretary at the last framework convention in Cancun:

Nations must follow up their successful UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun with higher global emission cuts and the rapid launch of new institutions and funds to show the world that a new era of international co-operation on climate change is established in fact.

Some would argue that we should not be setting targets here that exceed our obligations, but this is being done in part in anticipation of the 30% EU target coming into effect in time.

I also bring to the attention of the House the analysis provided by Friends of the Earth and which I have had verified by the Department, about what the Bill will mean in gross tonnage terms, as compared to the targets in the energy package of April 2009. Senator Norris is right. There is barely any difference in the gross tonnage, despite that fact there is a 6% difference in the targets. This is because, on the traded side, we have a very high level of reduction of carbon dioxide because of our commitment to renewables. Our level of reduction is 32%. This means 7 million tonnes of carbon being taken out, because we can generate electricity through renewables. This has given some relief on the non-traded side, which is the side on which agriculture and IBEC operate.

Another relief can be achieved through an increase in the projected sinks we have in place by 2020, which will give a 71% increase in the amount of CO2 being removed from the Irish environment and from the processes in which we engage. A gross figure of 4.8 million tonnes is envisaged here. This means that in the sector in which most of our economic activity is done, and in which the private sector operates, we need to achieve a reduction of 10 million tonnes on the base year 2008. When one takes sinks into account and subtracts what the sinks will be able to do from the national output of greenhouse gases one gets a 0.1 million tonne difference, which is negligible. I hope the various bodies which have been commenting on this can engage with those figures and understand that they are achievable and that the Bill does not put an additional onerous burden on them as Ireland moves towards being a low carbon economy.

The Confederation of British Industry, at its climate summit in November 2010, highlighted the opportunities for business generated by the global transition to a low carbon world. The global market for low carbon goods and services will be worth £4 trillion, close to €5 trillion, by 2015. That was the key message. While Ireland has had to develop in the fossil fuel era on the basis of purchasing its energy from those better endowed than ourselves we, in fact, are the well endowed ones for the low carbon era when it comes to renewable energy, financial services provision, innovation, education and so on.

The Bill will not please everyone but one thing that can be said of it without fear of contradiction is that it places Ireland out there among global investors as a location and a country committed to the transition and ahead of the curve in making it happen. We need to reinvent our economy. It needs to continue to move from fossil fuel dependence to fuel independence. What an assertion of sovereignty that can be at a time when we have it under such pressure.

The Confederation of British Industry chairman, Sir Richard Lambert, has stated that the CBI will not allow uncertainty of global targets to stop British industry from moving ahead. We cannot be left trailing behind Great Britain and Northern Ireland in our readiness for the low carbon future with which this Bill provides us.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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They have nuclear energy.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State and I welcome the publication of this historic Bill. The Labour Party will support it, with criticisms because we feel it does not go far enough. We are also critical of the Government for the unconscionable delay in introducing the Bill. This is a most unfortunate time to introduce it, when we are well into the fourth year and dying days of this failed Government. Having said that, we will be opposing the Fine Gael amendment to delay the Bill further because we believe this is too important a principle to delay further. There is, indeed, cross-party agreement on the need for climate change law. The Bill is flawed because it does not go far enough in ensuring that we will meet targets already set by the EU and we believe there are a number of ways in which the Bill can be improved. I welcome the Minister of State's statement that he will accept amendments on Committee Stage. I will be submitting amendments to strengthen and improve the Bill.

I pay tribute to groups such as Friends of the Earth and others involved in the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, which have been involved for a long time in trying to get this Bill on the agenda. It is most unfortunate that we see it so late in the lifetime of the Government.

Because of this delay, the principles in the Bill are an undue dilution of those set out in the programme for Government and in the more recent framework document of December 2009. The Bill is also weaker than the cross-party Bill produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, which formed the basis of Deputy Liz McManus's Bill introduced in the Dáil last year. The Bill is considerably weaker than the cross-party mechanisms already agreed and weaker than the Government's own framework document. There seems to have been a dilution, perhaps because of the delay and the behind-the-scenes haggling that may have gone on. The delay also leaves less time for transparent public consultation. Groups like the Irish Farmers' Association are concerned at the lack of public consultation and at the fact the public consultation period is not due to finish until 28 January, after consideration of the Bill has commenced in the House.

The Labour Party has reservations about the timing and condemns the Government for the delay. Having said that, we will support the Bill because it is in keeping with the progressive principle of ensuring legislation to control our carbon emissions and meet reductions targets. We do not believe further delay would be justified.

Three and a half years ago, I introduced a Bill that would have done the same thing this Bill seeks to do. It could have been accepted by the Government at any time during the last three and a half years. It is unfortunate that it was not. I will submit amendments on Committee Stage and I will have more time next week, on the resumption of Second Stage, to explain what those amendments will be about. In particular, I will seek to address the inadequacy of the targets set and the lack of interim deadlines before 2020. The 2020 target is too far off. There should be five year target periods, as in Deputy Liz McManus's Bill, which would make it more likely that we would meet targets as we go along.

I will also be dealing with the independence of the body, which it seems is no longer a climate change commission, that will monitor implementation of the Bill. I also ask the Minister of State why there is an absence of any reference to carbon budgets in the Bill. That was a stated objective of the programme for Government. I note the Minister of State said in his speech that he believes carbon budgets are too narrow a mechanism. Does this represent a change in Green Party policy on carbon budgets?

I also ask spokespersons for Fianna Fáil what is Fianna Fáil policy on the Bill. I listened to Senator Camillus Glynn's speech but I am really not sure whether Fianna Fáil is as behind the Bill as their colleagues in the Green Party. We will also be addressing the non-justiciability of the Bill. There is an extraordinary clause in subsection 3(2). The Minister of State has said he may accept amendments on this. I would simply seek to delete the subsection. It is for the courts to rule on what aspects of the Bill are justiciable or not. The clause is most unusual. Its only import is that it appears to weaken the impact of the Bill. My Bill and the proposals of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security would have provided for more sanctions for Governments that failed to meet the targets.

The Labour Party welcomes the concept of climate change law. We are signed up to the principle of legislation to set binding targets on this and future Governments. We are concerned about the weaknesses in the Bill and the possibility that any Government elected this year will have no set date by which it must reach its target, given that the first date is specified to be 2020. It is unfortunate there is not a five year target period.

Sitting suspended.